July 14, 2024
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July 14, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

What I Did on My Summer Staycation

I hope you all had an amazing summer! Maybe you traveled to beautiful destinations or reunited with friends and family. I enjoyed my summer. In addition to spending quality family time, attending outdoor performances and hiking, I reconnected with some beloved clients and was also privileged to work with new clients. While I value that I have been blessed with talents that help me systematize and organize peoples’ homes and lives, I like to focus on how much I have learned from my clients. How fun would it be for me to review what some of my beloved clients of the summer of 2022 have taught me.

I love working with families, and recently had the opportunity to help organize the bedrooms of two teen sisters. One taught me to hone in on the whimsical details of a room and not focus too much on the serious. When she and I had some tough decisions to make about her room, we went into our silly space and asked ourselves how her stuffed monkey would arrange things. The result was a room that has the clothes she actually wears, the books she cares about and all the fun eye candy/decorative items her shelves can hold. The second sister is a talented knitter, yet modest about her advanced skills. We made sure her favorite, crafty objects that had been created by her and people close to her, were spread throughout her room. This teen realized that for her, it is the home-made details that bring her an authentic sense of comfort, as opposed to factory-made, designer-status items.

In June and July, I had the opportunity to help empty nesters prepare their home of 20-plus years for sale and stage it for the all-important realtor photographs and showings. We all worked very hard purging and finding better places than a landfill for their former possessions. When it came time for staging the living room, we addressed the lighting, the furniture layout and the voices in our heads. Firstly, outdated lighting in the form of a standing lamp from the ’90s was swapped for simple, pewter-toned standing lamps.

In addition, the room had too much furniture. A house shows better when there is space. Creating space meant removing the love seat and accent chair. The chair was so loved that it would not have photographed well, and the love seat made the room look too crowded. Although all the years they lived there, the family never objected to the snugness of the room, the new voices in our heads said we needed to remove some furniture to interest young buyers who aspire to a minimalist vision.

My client told me she had no problem removing furniture and reconfiguring what was left. I admired her easy-breezy attitude. She was not insulted to hear the style and furniture she had embraced for years was not going to sell the house. She accepted the hard truth that, once on the market, every room and closet is under close scrutiny. Ever watch a house-hunting TV show on HGTV? I suspect the director instructs the people shopping for their new home to nitpick about the decor of the house. “Listen to me, when I yell, ‘Action.’ You look at the camera and complain in an annoyingly high-pitched tone, ‘Why did these owners choose pink paint and light carpeting in the 1990s? Didn’t they know that 30 years from then I would consider buying their house, and that pink walls make me whine and wall-to-wall carpeting forces me to roll my eyes?’” In the end, my client was so pleased with the rearrangement of the downstairs she declared she wanted to buy the house all over again.

The most amazing and impactful experience of my summer was working with the daughter of a Holocaust survivor. Her mother, well into her 90s, passed away earlier this summer. The daughter and I began to work together in early August with the intention of emptying her apartment by the end of the month. While I worked closely with the daughter, she told me stories of how, after the war, her mother moved to Sweden and rebuilt her life. Years later, married with two children, she experienced antisemitism in that country and declared that her family needed to move to the United States. (The little-known details of how Sweden offered shelter to many Jews was fascinating. Who knew?)

While living in Sweden, my client’s mother learned or improved upon her cooking and baking skills so well that her family published a cookbook of her best recipes. Most Jewish families have a sacred chicken soup recipe. The essential detail of this family’s soup was that it was clear and never cloudy. I learned that making a clear chicken soup is a long process demanding true diligence. Her chicken was boiled in a pot of water, and the water was tossed because the first pot will always be cloudy. The pot was refilled and that water was used for the soup. Employing a few more wise techniques to her simmering soup, time after time, she would serve a crystal-clear broth.

This survivor’s generous qualities went deeper than expressing her love for her family through cooking. She had a love for people and a love for Judaism. Her neighbors loved her and would do anything for her. She gave many of them, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, pushkas and taught them the Hebrew word “tzedaka.” She requested they put in 18 cents at a time and return full pushkas to her. She would find the right place for the money. As I walked through her apartment hallways with her daughter, people would stop us and offer condolences. They spoke so highly of this woman and enumerated all the kind things she did.

Although my summer was fairly simple and did not include a big vacation experience, my many experiences with new and not-so-new beloved clients enriched my summer and gave me opportunities to think and grow.


Ellen Smith is Central Jersey’s Kosher Organizer and tzniut wardrobe stylist. For over 14 years, Ellen has helped people restore order and create calm in their homes and souls. She believes “Clutter Clogs, but Harmony Heals.” See Ellen’s work on Instagram @ideclutterbyEllen. Contact Ellen for a complimentary phone consultation at [email protected].

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